Contributed by: Lucas Gordon
Mental health is the most common condition affecting young people today. Naturally, teachers come into contact with mental illness very often. Every school day, teachers watch students face the expectations of school in all of their social interactions, emotional responses, and efforts towards academic achievement. These expectations can cause school to be a centre of stress for many kids – but, are we as teachers prepared to address this stress?
As educators, we have a responsibility to be aware of the importance of mental health at school and to know how to recognise and support the mental health of our students so they can excel in their education.
How Mental Health Affects Students
Mental health is a part of everything we do, right down to our day-to-day functioning. At school, mental health can influence a student’s success by:
Affecting a student’s emotional well-being
- Mental health problems can restrict social development, leading to feelings of isolation or loneliness for a student. It can affect their ability to form good relationships with adults or other kids.
Affecting a student’s ability to learn
- Students with social and emotional problems often struggle to meet academic standards. Some mental disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) provide specific challenges for learning. The teacher should know how a particular student might be affected by ADHD due to the mental health effects the disorder can have on the child, so as to have strategies in place to help support the child’s ability to learn effectively.
Increasing the chance of dropping out of school
- Studies show about 15 percent of students in post-secondary education drop out due to not addressing their mental health before it becomes a serious problem.
Some common examples of mental disorders are depression, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder.
Possible Signs of Poor Mental Health
- Inability to screen out background noise
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of stamina (during long tests/assignments, etc.)
- Difficulty managing time
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Difficulty interacting with others
- Difficulty handling negative feedback
- Difficulty responding to change
Ways to Support Good Mental Health at School
School should be a key place for recognising and talking about mental health. The three suggestions below will help integrate and promote good mental health in your school:
Reducing the stigma of talking about mental health
- The public’s perception of mental illness is a major threat to any student that might be struggling privately. School-wide anti-stigma events will help students (as well as teachers, parents, and community members) understand the realities of mental illness and improve their attitude towards it.
- Identifying and helping a student who is struggling with mental illness is critical for that student’s success. Trained teachers can intervene as a student begins to display signs of mental illness (behavioural or emotional), and addressing these signs early will prevent the illness from becoming more severe.
Spreading information in school
- “Gatekeeper models” train teachers or student services workers to identify and help students who might have a mental disorder. This helps bring awareness and mental health knowledge to kids at school. Also, incorporating mental health information into lesson plans raises awareness and improves students’ attitudes towards mental health issues they or their peers may experience.
Finally, there are many free online resources that can help students with their mental health. (We have listed a few to start with below this article.) Smartphone applications or websites can give students further understanding of the importance and ways to build good mental health, methods of stress-relief, or even connect them with doctors. And, smartphone apps, such as Anxiety Reliever, Happify, or Headspace have the added benefit of being very accessible to most students these days.
Anything helps that brings positive mental health to the forefront, making the information readily available and accessible for students.
Promoting good mental health in schools will likely turn a potentially stressful place into a place of knowledge that will improve a student’s experience for life!
Helpful and Related Material
Online Mental Health Resources
Some Helpful Apps: Anxiety Reliever, Happify, Headspace